Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Mike McKenry & the Catchers

OK, Dewey, Chris Snyder and Jason Jaramillo all went down roughly at once, and with them went the Bucco Plans A, B, and C at backstop. Catchers of the future like Tony Sanchez, Eric Fryer and Kris Watt weren't ready, so Dusty Brown was suddenly the new starter, backed up by Wyatt Toregas.

They were both guys picked up to provide some organizational depth, not to claim innings in the show. Brown, who will be 29 on Sunday, was drafted in 2001 and had all of three MLB starts before coming to Pittsburgh with a .167 BA in 265 at-bats as a Red Sox. Brown has the rep as a good defensive catcher, and even at his age still projects as a possible MLB reserve.

Toregas, 28, had a cup of coffee with the Indians in 2009, starting 17 games and hitting .176. He's considered a good catch-and-throw guy, but Cleveland lost interest in him after 2009 and the Bucs signed him as a minor league free agent this year. Pittsburgh didn't use him much - he only caught 11 games at Indy, as he was behind JJ & Brown on the depth chart, and hit .034.

Hey, so the Bucs were lucky enough at least to have fourth and fifth catchers with some MLB experience and good defensive skills; what neither had was a bat to add to a lineup that sorely needed some production. So they went and got themselves yet another catcher, Mike McKenry. He's 26 and a fireplug at 5'9" and 200 pounds.

Pittsburgh had some insider knowledge of McKenry. He was a seventh round draft pick in 2006 of Colorado, and Clint Hurdle had him in a couple of Rockie camps.  There he was kinda caught behind Chris Iannetta and a rotating cast of Rox catchers, and he was sent to Boston last season for a AA reliever, Dan Turpen.

McKenry is stronger behind the dish than either Brown or Toregas, and has a rifle for an arm - he threw out 37% of minor league base stealers that tried him. Colorado thought he had some potential; he was protected on the forty-man roster in 2009-10.

He was a September call up for the Rox in 2010, and did nada in very limited action; in nine plate appearances, he walked once and whiffed five times.  McKenry split time in AAA Pawtucket this season, and was hitting .274.  His career minor league line is .265/.357/.453, respectable for a guy that doesn't K much (under 20%) and collects a bushelful of doubles (20+/season).

The FO struck a deal with Boston to get him for a PTBNL or cash.  Pittsburgh got an upgrade both defensively and offensively (or so they hope) with McKenry. The Pirates suggest they're still looking to add, but we don't think they'll be beating the bushes too hard.

It's true that they have to fill in at least six more weeks with the depth guys behind the plate, but Jaramillo should be back by the end of the month and Dewey by the end of July, so there's little point in overloading with reserve catchers or overpaying for a rent-a-starter that they may or may not need.

And it may not be too bad a thing for them to audition for next year. Heck, one of McKenry, Brown, or Jaramillo could even be starting in 2012, at least long enough to keep the catcher's box warm for Tony Sanchez.. 

It looks a lot like Sanchez will be in the minors next season for some if not all of next season.  There's also no guarantee that Dewey's option will be picked up - it won't be - nor Chris Snyder's, although his team option for one year at $6.75M may be exercised if the FO determines that there's too big a hole looming in 2012.

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